Problems Caused by China’s Three Gorges Dam

Part 1: Focus Statement

The purpose of this study is to offer an objective exploration of the environmental, socioeconomic, health, archeological and geological problems resulting from the construction of The Three Gorges Dam across The Yangtze River as well as to offer possible mitigation measures of the problems caused by the dam.

Interest Rationale

The choice of The Three Gorges Dam as the focus of this study was informed by two main factors. Foremost, the Three Gorges Dam is the biggest hydro-electric project in the history of mankind with obvious environmental and social ramifications.

According to Gleick, the dam is about 20 meters high, with a 40 million cubic meters volume and has a reservoir capacity of 40 billion cubic meters (Gleick 140). It is expected that its power generation capacity will attain a potential capacity of 22,000 MWe point at completion, which is currently the highest in the world (Gleick 140).

On the financial front the total cost of putting it up has been so enormous that no conclusive estimate can be arrived at (Gleick 141).

Considering the total number of subsidiary projects that have come up as a result of its construction, the unofficial expenditure the government has had to foot and the extent of less obvious expenditure such as official corruption, social disruption, ecological and archeological losses, any attempt at comparing the initial financial estimates with the eventual actual cost becomes impossible (Gleick 141, 142).

Secondly, while development projects of significant size always end up being a source of controversy, the Three Gorges Dam has been the source of an unusual uproar of conflicting opinions ever since its idea first came into being in 1919. The Three Gorges Dam Project’s conceptualization and eventual execution has been the subject of a host of factors ranging from differences in policy between successive governments.

Issues of interests include; floods of 1949 and 1954 that encouraged the government to hasten the implementation of the project due to its intended capability to control floods; economic market reforms that resulted in a need for more energy to drive Chinese economic growth and the local and international criticism and protests from human rights and environmental activists who saw the project as a huge affront to both nature and human rights (Ponseti & Jordi 154).

Jackson and Sleigh conclude that the dam always elicits either one or both of the following reactions from everyone who first hears of it: “awestruck interest or passionate disapproval” (2). It is not a wonder therefore that it has through out its unusually long history been the object of a world wide campaign of condemnation and criticism.

Western media has been noted to be especially vocal regarding the demerits of dam, probably echoing the cautionary stance adopted by their national governments. For instance, in 1995, a year following its construction, the United States Government withheld credit to American firms which expressed interest in the contracts the dam project offered (Lewis). It is this controversy that makes a study of this sort completely necessary.

What interests me about this topic?

The Three Gorges Dam was of interest to me due to the following reasons; as explained above, the magnitude of the project itself and the controversy it raised. In issues of great controversy, objectivity becomes hard to achieve and the truth consequently quite hard to determine. Truth formed my most primary motivation. At the same time, the dam offered a good opportunity to assess the viability of large hydro-electric dams.

Boundaries of the Research

The research made use of secondary data from studies based on the social, economic, archeological, health and geological consequences of the Three Gorge Dam project carried out between the years 1994 and 2012.

Methodology

Due to the richness of data that the Three Gorges Dam project presents, the observational case study research design and use of secondary sources such as literature review will be the research approach that will mostly be used.

How is this topic connected to what I have read or experienced?

Since this task directly relates to my field of learning, I am anxious to learn what the impact of Three Gorge Dam has to the environment and to people social life.

What I know

Hydro-electricity is the second largest source of power in the world and is believed to be environment friendly and sustainable. The Three Gorges Dam is the largest hydro-electric dam in the world and has been the subject of the greatest hydro-electric related controversy ever.

What I want to know

Have there been social, economic, environmental, geological and health problems caused by the Three Gorges Dam and other similar projects? What has been the extent of these effects? Does the Three Gorges Dam therefore make a viable and worthwhile project? Is hydro-electricity the saint in has been believed to be?

How did I choose my sources?

Numerous studies have carried out on the Three Gorges Dam. Those chosen for the purpose of this study were the ones that focused on the consequences of the dam on the social, economic, archeological, and health fronts. I relied on the school library e-journals database to search for relevant sources by using “Three Gorges Dam” as the search term and chose the most relevant hits that I got.

Part 2: Annotated Bibliography

Ponseti, M., Jordi L. “The Three Gorges Dam Project in China: History and Consequences.” Revista, 4 (2006): 152-187

The paper gives a rare insight into the scope of archeological loss that will be occasioned by the building of the dam. According to this study, the area to be inundated by the construction of the dam presents the heritage of a number of prehistoric cultures. More than 1,282 prehistoric sites and all the artifacts they contain will be submerged under the dam’s reservoir.

Prior to its approval, the dam project was analyzed by a panel of various experts according to this study and no opposition to the construction of the dam on the basis of the destruction of cultural heritage was presented. As such, the value of cultural relics eventually lost cannot be quantified or valued.

The paper also posits that the complete change of topography envisioned by the completion of the dam would lead to the loss of such heritages as ancient battle fronts as well sceneries that served as inspirations to ancient works of art and literature would have been submerged.

At the same time though, the paper reports, the excavation undertaken during the construction of the dam nonetheless resulted in the gathering of a significant amount of information regarding prehistoric cultures that occupied the Yangtze River valley such as the Ba.

International Rivers Network. “Human Rights Dammed Off At Three Gorges: An Investigation of Resettlement and Human Rights Problems In The Three Gorges Dam Project.” 2003. Web. 23 Jan, 2012

This paper carries an assessment of the Chinese resettlement policy in the Three Gorges Dam and compares it with international resettlement standards. Using qualitative data collected in five of the counties that are most affected by resettlement for the Three Gorges Project.

The study finds the dam project wanting in its settlement policy in various aspects summarized as (1) the lack of engagement of the affected population by the Chinese authorities; (2) the compensation for demolished houses being based on outdated rates; (3) the unavailability of land and jobs previously promised to displaced persons; (4) the diversion of resettlement funds to unrelated projects by the authorities; (5) the use of excessive force to quell protests demanding the amelioration of resettlement related grievances (6) along with other discrepancies between Chinese and international resettlement standards.

For these reasons recommendations are offered as mitigation measures for the resettlement problems resulting form the construction of the dam. The paper finally offers such recommendation as resettlement and rehabilitation of all displaced people; the establishment of grievance channeling mechanisms and the engagement of independent consultants to monitor resettlement among others. The paper therefore offers viable solutions to the social catastrophe that the Three Gorges Dam presents.

Jiaqi, L. “The Impact of China’s Three Gorges Project: An Evaluation of Its Effect on Energy Substitution and Carbon Dioxide Reduction.” 1998. Web. 22 Jan, 2012 .

One of the rationales offered by proponents of the Three Gorges Dam project is that in the dam’s absence, China would have to rely on the world’s most environmental unfriendly fuel: coal. This study offers a rare insight into the notion that hydro-power constitutes the clean sustainable power source it is believed to be and whether the Three Gorges Dam can solve the two main problems it was designed to address: reduction of thermal electricity generation and the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.

Though credited with being relatively environmentally clean, hydro-electric power still does contribute towards global warming through the release of CO2 and methane into the atmosphere.

These gases are produced by the decomposition of accumulated vegetation in reservoirs. China projects that by constructing the dam, it would avert 100 million tons of carbon dioxide, 2 million tons of sulfur dioxide, and 0.37 million tons of nitrogen oxide according to this source (Jiaqi). Until now, no reliable study has yet been carried out to assess whether these projections bear any truth.

The research found out that the dam’s actual power generation performance falls short of expectation due to factors such as siltation and water scarcity resulting from droughts. The role of the dam, while originally meant to be a substitute of thermal generated energy, has rather turned out to be that of a complement of coal as a source of energy. Thus, the dam does not live up to the expectations suggesting that it was not worth the massive investment it presents.

Jackson S., Sleigh, A. “Resettlement Issues of China’s Three Gorges Dam.” Economic Issues, 1998. Web. 22 Jan, 2012

This study makes a prediction of immense significance regarding the eventual social consequences of the Three Gorges Dam project. Through a thorough analysis of the population that the construction of the dam sought to displace and a consideration of the attendant factors inherent in involuntary displacement of people, the paper offers in-depth insights into the potential social consequences of the dam. These predictions were based on the application of credible models of voluntary and involuntary human resettlement.

The gravity of the issue of resettlement in the Three Gorges Dam project is magnified by the apparent disinclination of the Chinese government to engage with and address the genuine concerns of local inhabitants. The study states that the Chinese government was also seemingly incapable of raising sufficient funds to adequately handle the resettlement programs even without offering the displaced population any financial incentives.

As a matter of fact, the paper stated, a third of the total cost of building the dam was yet to be secured; issues of lack of transparency regarding the use of resettlement funds were also of great concern. Even in cases of ideal involuntary human resettlements, the paper asserts, doubts still linger regarding eventual expected social and economic outcomes. Considering all the above factors, the paper predicts that China’s largest involuntary human resettlement in peace time is likely to result in social unrest.

Mackie, T., & He, M. “COEH Final Report: Public Health Impacts of the Three Gorges Dam Reservoir: A Preliminary Survey of the Three Gorges Dam.” Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health Student Project Award Program. 2005. Web. 23 January, 2012 .

The rationale for carrying out of this study was that the dam was expected to change the ecology and hydrology of the Yangtze River in many ways. These changes would present many potential health concerns for the population around the resultant reservoir. By analyzing water samples from seven locations along the 700 kilometer reservoir, this study sought to assess the premise that the dam posed health risk to the population inhabiting areas around the reservoir.

The study sought to analyze water samples for the presence of cyanobacteraia which is linked with such complications as liver damage, gastro-intestinal disorders and neurological impacts. The study found out that cyanobacteraia did exist in the water therefore posing a health risk to those who were exposed to water from the reservoir. The presence of these algae was as a result of the slowing down of the original velocity of the Yangtze River by the dam.

It was also the direct result of the increase in water temperature and increase in organic materials in the river, both factors bearing a direct link to the construction of the dam. The study also found out that the risk of the population’s exposure to the reservoir’s water was real through such means as fishing, recreation and drinking. The findings of this study show that more comprehensive studies should be carried out to ascertain there aren’t more health risks posed by the dam.

Part 3: Synthesis

The studies cited above provide a good picture of the problems emanating from the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. Generally classifying these problems into categories such as health, archeological, social-economic and environmental, a single strand of truth does shape from all of these sources.

A consideration of independent arguments presented in each show that there are indeed significant shortcomings to the dam raising questions as to its overall worth. Most importantly, the clear exploration of the oversights leading to these problems from divergent points of view offers valuable literature for future dam projects.

Similar themes can be drawn amongst the sources cited. For instance, both International Rivers Network and Jackson and Sleigh studies focus on the human resettlement aspect and thereby drawing similar conclusions. The strongest theme though, running in all sources selected is proof that the dam project could have benefitted from a more thorough cost-benefit analysis and a more open and transparent implementation process.

Additionally, Mackie and He through their analysis of the Three Gorges Dam reservoir water have shown that there are real health concerns by confirming the presence of cyanobacteraia in the Yangtze River.

Jackson and Sleigh, drawing their arguments from the history and general principles of involuntary human resettlement, and the peculiarities of resettlement policy of the Three Gorges Dam project, predict that social unrest is a very probable eventuality as a social consequence of the dam project.

Jiaqi concludes that the dam might not be realizing its goal of helping to significantly reduce China’s greenhouse gas emissions by replacing thermal power sources. The dam, the study found out, could actually itself be a significant emitter of these very gases.

International Rivers Network concludes that unless mitigating measures as the ones recommended are taken, the dam project could easily become a human rights catastrophe.

Lastly, Ponseti and Jordi posit that the value of the archeological heritage lost as a result of the dam project is so huge to ever be estimated.

Works Cited

International Rivers Network. “Human Rights Dammed Off At Three Gorges: AnGleick, Peter. “Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, China.” Water Briefs, 3 (1993):139-150.

Investigation of Resettlement and Human Rights Problems in the Three Gorges Dam Project.” 2003. Web. 23 Jan, 2012

Jackson, Simon & Sleigh, Alex. “Resettlement Issues of China’s Three Gorges Dam.” Economic Issues, 1998. Web. 22 Jan, 2012

Jiaqi, Luam. “The Impact of China’s Three Gorges Project: An Evaluation of Its Effect on Energy Substitution and Carbon Dioxide Reduction.” 1998. Web. 22 Jan, 2012 .

Mackie, Timon & He, Mack. “COEH Final Report: Public Health Impacts of the Three Gorges Dam Reservoir: A Preliminary Survey of the Three Gorges Dam.” Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health Student Project Award Program. 2005. Web. 23 January, 2012 .

Ponseti, Marl & Jordi, Lipin. “The Three Gorges Dam Project in China: History and Consequences.” Revista, 4 (2006): 152-187